How Technology Can Fight Human Trafficking


SEATTLE — Technology has been called a “double-edged sword” in the fight against human trafficking. With the introduction of more and more advanced technology each year, the ease of human trafficking is rising. However, law enforcement organizations, private sector data companies and small startups are beginning to find that technology can also be used to fight human trafficking.

Law enforcement needs to constantly update its approach to combating human trafficking because of ever-evolving technology. Access to massive amounts of data can assist law enforcement with checking travel documents, performing background checks on suspicious individuals and shedding light on criminal behavior patterns. Because of this, new technology that consolidates human trafficking data into a single database can assist law enforcement with tracking trends and collecting information. This can also increase cooperation between different organizations across the world.

Universities across the United States have begun testing new types of databases and software designed to fight human trafficking. Most notably, the University of Southern California created software that can be used to detect potential sex trafficking cases online. The university is now working to expand on this software even further.

Big private sector companies like Google and Microsoft are also contributing to the effort. Google has given grants to anti-trafficking organizations that focus on using technology to combat human trafficking. One $3 million grant will go towards creating a Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network that locates and prevents trafficking to enhance cooperation between three of the largest anti-trafficking organizations: Polaris, Liberty Asia and La Strada International.

Small businesses in the private sector are just as important as big businesses, however. All companies can participate in the fight against human trafficking by ensuring supply chains are free from their influence. New companies can also contribute to spreading awareness. One company, Ulula, is a startup that detects labor trafficking and provides those in remote areas of countries, like Peru, with supportive technology to combat it.

Enhanced banking technologies represent another useful tool for exposing human trafficking. Banks are participating in strategies to expose financial transactions in human trafficking organizations. Financial institutions can pinpoint specific businesses and transactions to find patterns that reveal human trafficking and stop it in its tracks.

Social media and other mobile platforms can also enhance communication, assist survivors of trafficking and spread awareness. One U.K.-based organization called Stop the Traffik created the STOP app to combine community-level efforts and big data into a single platform. The app provides users with the tools to collect information on human trafficking that the organization analyzes to develop new prevention initiatives.

There are numerous forms of technology that can be used to combat human trafficking. Databases, mobile apps and banking are just some of the constantly evolving approaches. From big business to small nonprofit, all organizations now have the technological tools to actively fight human trafficking.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr


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